Posts Tagged ‘Church History


C1-4 of the Church

I give a talk this weekend on the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.)  In preparation, I have been reading a variety of books.  The first two volumes of The Monarch History of the Church by Ivor J Davidson were part of my research.  Both volumes are up-to-date and very readable.  They are, as a comment in the blurb says, ‘a treat’.

Below is a taster.  It is effectively Davidson’s summary of his first volume (The Birth of the Church) written near the beginning of his second (A Public Faith).

Christianity in the Early Fourth Century

As the fourth century began, Christianity had come a very long way from its beginnings in Palestine. It had spread far beyond its origins in Judaism and had won Gentile converts all over the Roman world and well beyond. It had weathered many storms, including official perse-
cution both small- and large-scale, widespread popular indifference or opposition to its ideas, and a great deal of failure, dispute, and division among its followers. It had developed sophisticated intellectual traditions in the articulation and defense of its essential teachings and had evolved structures of discipline, spirituality, and ministry that spoke of its social organization and the energy of its inner life.

It had touched individuals at all levels of society and had made disiples among people of widely differing ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Its communities of worshipers varied enormously in size, but they were to be found from Syria and Persia to the extremes of  Western Europe, from Egypt and North Africa to Britain, the Balkans, Armenia, and Georgia. Christianity was by no means confined to imperial Roman territory; many of its most flourishing churches and spiritual traditions were concentrated deep in the heart of Asia and in significant parts of Africa. In a world in which new religious movements were plentiful and pluralism was a fact of life, this one faith-which declared that its message was for all but demanded exclusive commitment to the one God and to his Christ-had become a remarkably powerful force. Within the Roman Empire as a whole, 10 percent or more of the population called themselves Christians, and there were very significant numbers in regions that lay far beyond the Romans’ control.

The majority of believers were still located in urban areas, and in many regions people who lived in the countryside remained untouched by Christian evangelism. Nevertheless, in the last quarter of the third century Christianity had also spread quite significantly in rural areas,
and there had been a measurable decline in popular enthusiasm for some of the cults of regional deities. Christians still often met in private houses, but in many places their meeting rooms were officially recognized as church property, their clergy were publicly accepted
as leaders, and their rituals, teachings, and patterns of organization were witnessed routinely by society at large.

The majority of people in the Roman world remained unconcerned by the Christians’ behav-
iour; rumours of their odd ways were rife, and it was always possible to laugh at the Christians or blame them when times were difficult, but it was not easy to avoid their presence or escape the effects of their zeal in the densely packed, face-to-face environments of ancient urban
society. Indeed, at an individual level, many ordinary folk probably got on perfectly well with their Christian neighbours, and some admired their commitment to their lifestyle. Christians were increasingly to be found in quite affluent circumstances and in responsible positions,
in administration, in economic activity, in the professions, and in the imperial household itself. All in all, there were simply too many of them to ignore.

And this, indeed, was the problem. Not for the first time, it had become apparent to the authorities that the Christians were a political liability. There was significant sympathy in the Roman world for the idea that there was in the end a single divine being behind or beyond
all the gods and goddesses of classical religion. The Christians, however, like their Jewish progenitors and fellow eccentrics, seemed to take the obligations of their monotheism far too seriously. For generations, the followers of Christ had been notoriously awkward
in their attitude to the imperial cult, refusing to compromise their devotion to their Lord by acknowledging the emperor as divine or offering sacrifice to Rome’s traditional gods. While the third century had seen large numbers of Christians brought to heel, either as traitors to their cause or as martyrs for it, there were enduring uncertain- ties as to their loyalty. The empire was crucially dependent upon a strong and reliable military force; some Christians refused to serve in the army altogether, and others risked offending Rome’s guardian divinities by making the sign of the cross when they went into battle.

In a world where things could easily go wrong, the Christians were too big a risk to Rome’s security. It was time to deal with them once and for all.

Ivor J Davidson

The Public Faith : The Monarch History of the Church


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (8)

We saw in the previous blog that both Methodists (C18) and Plymouth Brethren (C19) raised dissenting voices at IAO.  The initial teaching of J N Darby and W Kelly (that justification is located in the death and resurrection of Christ, not IAO) prevailed in Brethren theology well into the C20.  W E Vine (1873-1949), a Brethren Bible Scholar whose influence spread far beyond the boundaries of Brethren chiefly through his celebrated dictionary ‘Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words‘ published 1940, along with C F Hogg another Brethren commentator, writes,

Neither the incarnation of the Son of God, nor His keeping of the law in the days of His flesh availed, in whole or in part, for the redemption of men…. His redemptive work proper began and ended on the cross; …Hence it is nowhere said in the New Testament that Christ kept the law for us. Only His death is vicarious, or substitutionary. He is not said to have borne sin during any part of His life; it was at the cross that He became the sin-bearer  [C. F. Hogg , W. E. Vine , The Epistle of the Galatians, (London; GB: Pickering and Inglis, LTD.), 1959, p.186].

A contemporary of Hogg and Vine, Open Brethren writer John Ritchie (1853-1930) commenting on Romans writes,

The theological phrase, “The righteousness of Christ,” so much used, is not a scriptural term. The meaning usually read into it is, that the sinner having failed to keep the law, Christ has kept it for him, that His obedience is counted mans’ righteousness, and put on all that believe as a “robe.” But this would not be “righteousness apart from law” (Rom. 3:21). If God reckons the sinner to have kept the law because Christ kept the law for him, then righteousness surely comes by law, and the death of Christ was “in vain” (Gal. 2:21). In all this, justification by grace through redemption, has no place. The gospel is not that a sinner is made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s legal obedience on earth, and saved by His death, but rather that “being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” [John Ritchie, Romans, (Charlotte, NC : The Serious Christian, 1987), p. 161].

More recently, William McDonald (1917-2007), former President of Emmaus Bible College, and Brethren writer, commenting on Romans 5:18 writes,

The righteousness of Christ mentioned in Romans 5: 18 does not mean His righteousness as a Man on earth or His perfect keeping of the law. These are never said to be imputed to us. If they were, then it would not have been necessary for Christ to die. The New American Standard Bible is on target when it translates: “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” The “one act of righteousness” was not the Savior’s life or His keeping of the law, but rather His substitutionary death on Calvary’s cross  [William MacDonald, Justification by Faith (Romans), (Kansas City, KS: Walterick Publishers, 1981), p. 62].

Clearly IAO has been resisted by mainstream representatives of Plymouth Brethren theology in the C20.

In the early C20 Brethren influence was quite wide in evangelicalism.  Many reformed churches (in the UK and USA and further afield) had collapsed under the weight of German theology with its Biblical criticism and liberalism.  Evangelical life was nourished in the (now considered) more fundamentalist enclaves influenced by Darby’s dispensationalism.  I am not for a moment saying there was no evangelical life outside of dispensational circles, clearly there was, however, these ‘fundamentalist’ strongholds of the gospel were a significant force in the evangelicalism of the first 50 years of C20. And they were, as I say, influenced by Brethren theology.

For example, in the States, William Newell, Congregational Church pastor, famed preacher, and Assistant Superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute (under R A Torrey) writes in his commentary on Romans,

Jesus’ “was always obedient to His Father, but it cannot be too strongly emphasized that His life before the cross – His ‘active obedience’ … is not in any sense counted to us for righteousness.” (W. Newell Romans, Kregel (2004) Romans 5:19)

Arno C Gaebelein (1861-1945) a prominent and influential Methodist dispensationalist upon whom Wheaton College conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1922 writes,

“The term “Righteousness of God” is much misunderstood. Not a few think it is the righteousness of Christ (a term nowhere used in Scripture) which is attributed to the believing sinner. They teach that Christ fulfilled the law, lived a perfect life on earth and that this righteousness is given to the sinner. All this is unscriptural. Righteousness cannot be bestowed by the law in any sense of the word. If the holy life of the Son of God, lived on earth in perfect righteousness could have saved man and given him righteousness, there was no need for Him to die. “If righteousness came by the law then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21). It is God’s righteousness which is now on the side of the believing sinner; the same righteousness which condemns the sinner, covers all who believe. And this righteousness is revealed in the Gospel. God’s righteousness has been fully met and maintained in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. By that wonderful work God is now enabled to save sinners and to save them righteously. The righteousness of God is therefore first of all revealed in the Gospel of Christ. Apart then from the law, righteousness of God is manifested, the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ. And this righteousness now revealed was also witnessed to by the law and the prophets. The law of the different sacrifices, insufficient in themselves to take away sins, pointed to the great sacrifice, in which God would be fully glorified as well as His righteousness satisfied. There were many types and shadows. Now since the righteousness of God is fully made known in the Gospel we can trace God’s wonderful thoughts and purposes in the types and histories of the Old Testament.  (Isaiah 41:10; 46:13; 51:5, 6, 8; 56:8).”

The highly influential Scofield Reference Bible, to which Gaebelein had input, avers substantially the same. In Romans 3 Scofield comments,

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

[1] righteousness of God

The righteousness of God is neither an attribute of God, not the changed character of the believer, but Christ Himself, who fully met in our stead and behalf every demand of the law, and who is, but the act of God called imputation Lev 25:50 Jas 2:23, “made unto us . . righteousness” 1Cor 1:30.

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Sin originated with Satan Isa 14:12-14, entered the world through Adam Rom 5:12, was, and is, universal, Christ alone excepted Rom 3:23 1Pet 2:22, incurs the penalties of spiritual and physical death Gen 2:17 3:19 Ezek 18:4,20 Rom 6:23 and has no remedy but in the sacrificial death of Christ Heb 9:26 Acts 4:12 availed of by faith Acts 13:38,39.

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

[1] Redemption

(1) agorazo, “to purchase in the market.” The underlying thought is of a slave-market. The subjects of redemption are “sold under sin” Rom 7:14 but are, moreover, under sentence of death Ezek 18:4, Jn 3:18,19 Rom 3:19 Gal 3:10, and the purchase price is the blood of the Redeemer who dies in their stead Gal 3:13 2Cor 5:21 Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45 1Tim 2:6 1Pet 1:18…

(3) lutroo, “to loose,” “to set free by paying a price” Jn 8:32 Gal 4:4,5,31 5:13 Rom 8:21. Redemption is by sacrifice and by power See Scofield Note: “Ex 14:30″ Christ paid the price, the Holy Spirit makes deliverance actual in experience Rom 8:2…

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

[2] propitiation

Lit. a propitiatory [sacrifice], through faith by his blood; Gr. hilasterion, “place of propitiation.” The word occurs, 1Jn 2:2 4:10 as the trans. of hilasmos, “that which propitiates,” “a propitiatory sacrifice.” Hilasterion is used by the Septuagint, and Heb 9:5 for “mercy-seat.” The mercy-seat was sprinkled with atoning blood in the day of atonement Lev 16:14 in token that the righteous sentence of the law had been (typically) carried out, So that what must else have been a judgment-seat could righteously be a mercy-seat Heb 9:11-15 4:14-16, a place of communion Ex 25:21,22.

In fulfilment of the type, Christ is Himself the hilasmos, “that which propitiates,” and the hilasterion, “the place of propitiation” –the mercy-seat sprinkled with His own blood–the token that in our stead He So honoured the law by enduring its righteous sentence that God, who ever foresaw the cross, is vindicated in having “passed over” sins from Adam to Moses Rom 5:13 and the sins of believers under the old covenant See Scofield Note: “Ex 29:33″ and just in justifying sinners under the covenant. There is no thought in propitiation of placating a vengeful God, but of doing right by His holy law and so making it possible for Him righteously to show mercy.

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

[3] righteousness

His righteousness” here is God’s consistency with His own law and holiness in freely justifying a sinner who believes in Christ; that is, one in whose behalf Christ has met every demand of the law Rom 10:4.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

[4] Justification

Justification, Summary: Justification and righteousness are inseparably united in Scripture by the fact that the same word (dikaios, “righteous”; dikaioo, “to justify”) is used for both. The believing sinner is justified because Christ, having borne his sins on the cross, has been “made unto him righteousness” 1Cor 1:30. Justification originates in grace Rom 3:24 Ti 3:4,5 is through the redemptive and propitiatory work of Christ, who has vindicated the law Rom 3:24,25 5:9 is by faith, not works Rom 3:28-30 4:5 5:1 Gal 2:16 3:8,24 and may be defined as the judicial act of God whereby He justly declares righteous one who believes on Jesus Christ. It is the Judge Himself Rom 8:31-34 who thus declares. The justified believer has been in court, only to learn that nothing is laid to his charge. Rom 8:1,33,34...

31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

[5] Do we then

The sinner establishes the law in its right use and honour by confessing his guilt, and acknowledging that by it he is justly condemned. Christ, on the sinner’s behalf, establishes the law by enduring its penalty, death. Cf. Mt 5:17,18.

Imputation is the act of God whereby He accounts righteousness to the believer in Christ, who has borne the believer’s sins in vindication of the law” (C. I. Scofield, Scofield Study Bible, p. 1308).

It should be obvious from the above that for Scofield (both a Congregationalist and Presbyterian in his career) the demand of the law for a sinner (death) was met in Christ’s death.  In his death the law is vindicated and upheld.  There is no mention here of IAO. Again, it is worth underlining that the Scofield Bible notes were the source of much popular evangelical theology throughout the greater part of the C20.

Robert P. Lightner, Amyraldian Baptist and previous Professor of Systematic theology at Dallas Seminary  In 1970, commenting on IAO and the supposed vicariously atoning life sufferings of Christ, he wrote:

First, the view fails to take into account that before the fall, Adam did not have a sin nature. Instead, it assumes that to be rightly related to God, Adam and his posterity were required to render perfect obedience to the commands of God. . . .It is not too much to say that the whole concept of the vicarious nature of Christ’s active obedience rests primarily upon the idea of the covenant of works. Since the supposed covenant promised eternal life for obedience and since Adam disobeyed and all his posterity in him, Christ, the Last Adam, came to accomplish what the first Adam failed to do. The fact that Adam came from the hands of the Creator, sinlessly perfect must not be overlooked. Thus the command of God to obey Him was not designed to produce eternal life in him or to relate him rightly to God. He already enjoyed a state of sinlessness and a proper relation to and right standing before his Creator. Contrary to the contention of covenant theologians, Scripture does not say that Adam would have inherited eternal life had he obeyed God. Human effort is never presented as a condition of salvation in Scripture for any dispensation; rather, the command of God to Adam was designed to demonstrate his submission to the authority of God.Second, the view amounts to a minimizing of the cross work of Christ. . . . Thus, according to this view, the death of Christ on the cross was not the sole basis upon which God provided redemption and everlasting life for man. If the life sufferings be viewed as substitutionary and vicarious, then the Savior’s passive obedience in the shedding of His blood on the cross must be viewed as less than the total or complete means by which God through His Son atoned for sin. The blood shed at Calvary would then constitute only part of the payment for sin.

Third, the most serious weakness of all is the stark fact that no Scripture assigns substitution to the life sufferings of Christ. On the contrary, Scripture abounds with evidence that through His substitutionary death on the cross, and through that alone, He took the sinner’s place and died in the sinner’s stead (Isa 53:6–7; Rom 3:18, 3:24–25 , 5:7–9 ; 2 Cor 5:14–21; 1 Peter 2:24). The defense of the vicarious nature of Christ’s active obedience for His suffering in life is voluminous, but scriptural proof is conspicuous by its absence.8 Lightner, Robert P., “The Savior’s Suffering in Life,” Bibliotheca Sacra 127:505 (1970) 33-34

In 1986, he made a similar argument specifically against the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the believer while critiquing Theonomy:

A basic premise in the theological structure of theonomy, along with covenant Reformed theology, is the belief that Christ’s active obedience to the Law during His life was as substitutionary as His passive obedience in death. . . . That Christ obeyed perfectly the Law and suffered greatly during His life is not denied or even disputed by dispensationalists. The crucial question, however, is, Why did He suffer in life? What was accomplished by His obedience to the Law? Scripture simply does not teach that the life sufferings of Christ were vicarious. Rather it stresses His death alone as a substitution for sin and sinners. To be sure, the Savior’s sinless life demonstrated that He was qualified to be the sinner’s Substitute, but He atoned for sin only on the cross, where He became a curse (Gal 3:13). Viewing Christ’s active obedience in His life as substitutionary is the natural result of believing that God promised Adam and his posterity eternal life if he would obey God’s command not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Since Adam did not obey God’s command or law, Christ, the last Adam came and did in His life what the first Adam failed to do—to earn righteousness for His own. In this view the death of Christ was not the only basis on which God made substitution for man’s sin. Theonomy and Reformed theology in general believe that through His active obedience the Savior carried His people beyond the point where Adam was before he fell to give them a claim to eternal life. Dispensationalists do not view the theological covenant of works as promising Adam and his posterity eternal life for obedience. God promised Adam death for disobedience, not eternal life for obedience. Furthermore did not Adam possess creaturely perfection as he came from the creative hand of God? Was not all that God made “very good” (Gen 1:31), including man? Theonomy teaches that the way of salvation before the Fall differed from the way of salvation after the Fall. That is a strange doctrine coming from those who falsely accuse dispensationalists of believing in more than one way of salvation. 9 Lightner, Robert P., “A Dispensational Response to Theonomy,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143:571 (1986) 233-

Although a good number of dispensationalists did teach IAO, many were reluctant to do so and tended to emphasize simply the death of Christ.

Alva McClain, founder and first President of Grace Theological Seminary (Brethren by background) typically writes

Justification: “… deals with the guilt of sin. When a man sins, he is guilty and therefore deserves to be punished. In justification, God declares a man righteous, by virtue of the death of Christ on his behalf. … Thus justification is a declarative act of God. Justification does not make a man righteous. …. It means that God declares him to be righteous” (Alva McClain, Romans p. 140)

Thomas Constable, currently DTS Senior Professor of Bible Exposition observes,

“The obedience of Christ is a reference to His death as the ultimate act of obedience rather than to His life of obedience since it is His death that saves us.” (Notes on Romans 5:19 Pg 60)

Even George Eldon Ladd, who accepts IAO concedes in his NT Theology,

“Paul never states explicitly that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers.” (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament p.491)

Actually, I think it is fair to say that in the popular American fundamentalist/evangelicalism of the main part of C20, IAO, for most, was something unknown.  It was not part of the gospel as commonly preached.  The following  sermon, attributed online to Billy Graham but more probably that of Wil Pounds (since his name is injected), himself a Southerner,  a graduate of William Carey College and  New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, prolific writer, preacher and missionary, seems fairly typical of American fundamentalist/evangelical  preaching even yet,

We have been saved by grace through faith. The apostle Paul emphatically states, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16).

Justification is a legal standing with God based upon Christ’s death and resurrection and our faith in Him. The word Paul uses (dikaioo), comes from Roman legal courts meaning to declare to be righteous, or to pronounce righteous. Therefore, justification is the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God who is Judge. It is the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s suppose for a moment that I died tonight and stood before the Lord God who is the Supreme Judge of the Universe. No doubt He would ask me, “Wil Pounds, why should I let you into my heaven? You are a guilty sinner. How do you plead?”

My response would be, “I plead guilty, Your Honor.”

My advocate, Jesus Christ, who is standing there beside me speaks up for me. He says, “Your Honor. It is true that Wil Pounds is a grievous sinner. He is guilty. However, Father, I died for him on the cross and rose from the dead. Wil Pounds has put his faith and trust in Me and all that I have done for Him on the Cross. He is a believer. I died for him, and he has accepted Me as his substitute.”

The Lord God turns to me and says, “Is that true?”

I will respond to Him, “Yes sir! That is the truth. I am claiming the shed blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse me of all my sins. I have put my faith in Jesus to save me for all eternity. This is what You have promised in Your Word. Jesus said, ‘For God so loved the world (and this includes Wil Pounds), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'”

The Lord God responds: “Acquitted! By order of this court I demand that you be set free. The price has been paid by My Son.”

Furthermore, I get to go home and live with the Judge!

Justification means that at the moment of salvation God sovereignly declares the believing sinner righteous in His sight. The believing sinner is declared to be righteous in His standing before God. From that moment on throughout life, through death, that sinner who has believed is now and forever right before God. God accepts him, and he stands acquitted of his sins.

A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16). (Find here.)

I submit that in the States it is only the ascendency in recent years of a more confessionally reformed evangelicalism that has once again raised the profile of IAO.

The UK story of C20 evangelicalism is somewhat different to the States.  Dispensationalism never gained the hold in the UK to the extent it did in the States.  However, like the States, in the first half of the C20 mainline reformed churches were deeply compromised by liberalism.  I am unsure just how widespread Brethren theological influence was, some say significantly so.  What is clear is that there were attempts by various writers to tone down the rhetoric of IAO.

H C G Moule, Anglican Bishop of Durham from 1901, convinced and influential evangelical, in his ‘Outlines of Christian Doctrines’ he writes,

A few words may come in here on the Imputed Righteousness of Christ. This phrase, once widely accepted, and not least by such Anglicans as Andrewes and Beveridge (cent. xvii.), is now much disputed, and even repudiated. But it rests securely upon Rom iv. 6, with its context. There has been a tendency to over-refinement upon it; a too elaborate distinction between our Lord’s active keeping of the moral law and His awful suffering beneath the penalty of our sins; the one considered as supplying our defects, the other as meeting our violations. But this is not the essential view of the phrase; and we see this all the more as we remember (above, p. 83) the profound connexion between the obedience of our Lord’s life and the merit of His Passion. The essential of the phrase is just this, that the Son of God, as the supremely meritorious One, as infinitely satisfactory to law, is, before the law, and for the purposes of law, accepted, reckoned as the believing sinner’s substitute. The man, incorporated in Him, is counted, reputed, as involved in His whole merit, as the Lord was counted, reputed, as involved in the man’s sin. His merit is thus imputed, that is to say, set down, to the man.  H C G Moule  Outlines of Christian doctrine 1889  Pg 188

Moule seems anxious to step back apace from a bald IAO.  James Denney, Free Church minister and Professor of Systematics at the Free Church College from 1897  until his death in 1917 seems to feel the same.  He writes in his book ‘The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation’,

But in proportion as men rose above the conception of sin and satisfaction, as mere things or abstract ideas, and had their faith and attention concentrated on the personal Saviour by whom they were reconciled to God, this position became intolerable. It left no significance for salvation to anything in Jesus except His death. It almost prompts us to ask again, as Athanasius did, why He did not die whenever He was born, and make the satisfaction in the most direct way.

The Christian soul felt instinctively that the life of Jesus must come into His work somehow as well as His death; wherever we see Jesus, in whatever attitude, however engaged, reconciling virtue goes out of Him. This was recognised when the life of Christ was dragged in, so to speak, side by side with His death, and, though it had not the significance of satisfaction for sin assigned to it, was nevertheless invested with another significance equally necessary to salvation. The life was the active obedience and the death the passive obedience, and though they were alike in respect that both were obedience, each fulfilled its separate and independent function.

Thus the Westminster Confession, in c. Xi. , repeatedly distinguishes in this way the “obedience and satisfaction” of Christ, or His ”obedience and death, ” the satisfaction or death being the ground on which we are cleared from sin, while the obedience constitutes a righteousness of Christ which is imputed to believers.

The utmost refinements or discriminations in this mode of thought were probably to be found in the Puritan theologians of America.

  • “Though the Redeemer obeyed in suffering and suffered in obeying, and His highest and most meritorious obedience was acted out in His voluntary suffering unto death, and in this greatest instance of His suffering the atonement which He made chiefly consisted; yet His obedience and suffering are two perfectly distinct things, and answered different ends, and must be considered so, and the distinction and difference carefully and with clearness kept up in the mind, in order to have a proper understanding of this very important subject. The sufferings of Christ, as such, made atonement for sin, as He suffered the penalty of the law or the curse of it, the evil threatened to transgression, and which is the desert of it, in the sinner’s stead, by which He opened the way for sinners being delivered from the curse, and laid the foundation for reconciliation between God and the transgressors, by His not imputing but pardoning their sins who believe in the Redeemer and approve of His character and conduct.  By the obedience of Christ, all the positive good, all those favours and blessings are united and obtained, which sinners need in order to enjoy complete and eternal redemption or everlasting life in the kingdom of God. ” *

More important, however, than any such refinements was the persistence of the idea that the whole work of Christ, His active and passive obedience, constituted in some sense a merit or merits, in virtue of which men could be reconciled to God. It is to God, in the first instance, that the life and death of Christ have value; and it is out of regard to  their value, jointly or separately in other words, it is propter Christum that God admits men to His peace, or that men are justified or reconciled to God. Theologians, from the greatest to the least, are at one here. (James Denney: The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation   Hodder and Stoughton : Cunningham Lectures 1917: Pg 94-96)

Denney holds to the importance of active and passive obedience (as do all believers) but refuses to insist on the refinements that advocates of IAO say is vital to evangelical orthodoxy.

A more recent British theologian like I Howard Marshall (an evangelical Methodist) seeks to put the dogma of Christ’s imputed righteousness in perspective when he says, the imputed

‘righteousness of Christ may be a fair inference . . . but it goes beyond what Paul actually says” (p. 312 n. 10).

Given this diversity within evangelical orthodoxy over many centuries it is hardly surprising that the same differences regarding what is meant by imputation exist today.  The views expressed on imputation by Federal Visionists, N T Wright, Robert Gundry and Mark Seifrid are hardly novel, they simply are in line with evangelicals throughout the centuries who have baulked at the classical expression of imputation in covenant theology.  They baulked because they doubted its biblical validity. It is the same today.  Michael Bird observes,

‘It is no accident, then, that in New Testament theologians’ recent and current treatments of justification, you would be hard-pressed to find any discussion of an imputation of Christ’s righteousness . . . The notion is passe, neither because of Roman Catholic influence nor because of theological liberalism, but because of fidelity to the relevant biblical texts. (M Bird, Incorporated Righteousness).

Whatever may be said of how Federal Vision, Mark Seifrid, Robert Gundry or N T Wright understand other aspects of justification, on this aspect it seems crystal clear they are well within any reasonable definition of evangelical orthodoxy.  More importantly, they stand comfortably within biblical orthodoxy, that is, their view on imputed righteousness is not simply consonant with historical evangelical belief but with biblical teaching.

The litmus test for any belief must be Scripture.  It is Scripture that must test the veracity of IAO and any other theological construct.  In my view, the biblical case for IAO is less than compelling.

In summary, the case for IAO being integral to evangelical orthodoxy is found wanting.  I hope to demonstrate in future blogs that  the case for it being biblically cogent is weak.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (6)

In my first blog on this topic I suggested the claim that IAO is integral to evangelical orthodoxy is historically weak.  At the moment I am on the second of three blogs making a case for this claim.  My case is necessarily heavily dependent on secondary sources.  I am, however, endeavouring to use sources recognised for their objectivity.  Not a few are actually pro-IAO.

We saw in the previous blog on this topic that it is hard to argue,  as is argued today, that IAO was a necessary  part of the orthodoxy of the initial Magisterial Reformers.  Instead we are obliged to regard it as late-Reformational.  Mark Seifrid writes,

‘To insist that one define justification in terms of ‘the imputation of Christ’s righteousness’ is to adopt a late-Reformational Protestant understanding…it is impossible to force Luther into this paradigm… Shall we then declare Luther outside the Reformation? (Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates Pg 149)

Bruce McCormack in his essay in ‘Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates on Justification‘ in the book of a similar title writes,

In its fully developed form the [Protestant] alternative [to Roman Catholic infused righteousness] was to understand justification in terms of a twofold imputation… Now I have deliberately styled this form of the Protestant doctrine of Justification as the ‘fully developed form’.  I do so in order to indicate it is the product of a development in thought.  It did not suddenly appear, as if overnight, in the early years of the Reformation but was the result of a good bit of refinement.  In this development, the decisive role was played – for both Reformed and Lutherans – by Calvin’s response to the challenge of a one-time lutheran by the name of Andreas Osiander. ((Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates Pg 91,92)

Osiander, ‘the heterodox father of Protestant orthodoxy’, subsequent to Luther’s death, claimed that only the indwelling divine presence of Christ justifies.  Ironically too,  according to Seifrid, it was ‘apparently Osiander who first assigned the active and passive obedience different roles in Justification’.   Osiander’s mystical views that by faith we share in the essential righteousness of Christ, according to McCormack, led to Calvin’s mature  doctrine of Justification which he presented in his 1559 edition of his Institutes (material not found in previous editions).

Thus it is late in the Reformation before IAO became accepted.  Even then, it was not accepted uniformly.  Many doubted and rejected it.  The evidence lies in persons and confessions.  For example there seems to be some doubt that  it was fully accepted by Ursinus, one of the two architects of the Heidelberg Confession ( and certainly it was criticised by a student of Ursinus, David Paraeus who says the whole debate called forth

“more of dangerous speculation, than of solid truth, and more of learning, than of faith.” (R W Landis What Were the Views Entertained by the Early Reformers, on the Doctrine of Justification, Faith, and the Active Obedience of Christ? Pg 422)

Dr Wes White, another advocate of IAO acknowledges,

To begin with, even though this denial was condemned by the French Reformed Churches (though this view was later tolerated even there), a great part of the Reformed Churches did not reject as ministers those who denied active obedience, let alone count them as heretics. For example, clearly Gataker, Twisse, and Vines denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, but they and their views were tolerated by the Westminster Assembly. Second, there were various ministers throughout the Reformed Churches who held this viewpoint, such as John Jacob Alting who taught at Groningen in the Netherlands. Third, the theologians of Saumur also denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Of course, the Swiss Reformed Churches condemned this viewpoint and other Salmurian views in the Formula Consensus Helvetica, but other Churches did not. Fourth, this denial was extremely common amongst the German Reformed Churches including theologians such as Piscator, Ursinus, Pareus, Crocius, Marinius, Wendelin, and Scultetus (among others!). Consequently, we can see that a significant minority did deny the imputation of the active obedience of Christ often with toleration. (

Let me cite a Scottish Reformer of the period Robert Rollock (d. 1588), the first Principal of the University of Edinburgh:

“It may be demanded, Had it not been sufficient for our good, and to the end he might redeem us, if he had only lived well and holily, and not also so to have suffered death for us? I answer, it had not sufficed. For all his most holy and righteous works had not satisfied the justice and wrath of God for our sins, nor merited the mercy of God, reconciliation, righteousness, and life eternal for us. The reason is, for that the justice of God did require for our breach of God’s covenant, that we should be punished with death eternal, according to the condition denounced and annexed to the promise of that covenant. Therefore, no good works of our own, or of any mediator for us, after the breach of that covenant of works, could have satisfied the justice of God, which of necessity after a sort required the punishment and death of the offender, or certainly of some mediator in his stead. If, then, all the good and holy works of the Mediator could not satisfy that wrath and justice of God for sin, it is clear they could not merit any new grace or mercy of God for us.

But you will say, that the good and holy works of Christ our Mediator have wrought some part at least of that satisfaction, whereby God’s justice was appeased for us, and some part of that merit whereby God’s favour was purchased for us? I answer, these works did serve properly for no part of satisfaction or merit for us: for that, to speak properly, the death of Christ and his passion only did satisfy God’s justice, and merited his mercy for us.

If any will yet farther demand, May we not divide the satisfaction and merit of Christ into his doings and sufferings, that we may speak on this manner, Christ by his death and passion hath satisfied God’s justice, and by his good and holy works he hath merited God’s mercy for us, that so satisfaction may be ascribed to his death, and merit to his works; that the righteousness wherewith we are justified before God may be partly the satisfaction which Christ performed by his death for us, partly the merits which he obtained by his works for us? I answer; to speak properly, the satisfaction and merit which is by the passion of Christ only, both was and is our righteousness, or the satisfactory and meritorious death of Christ, or the satisfaction which was by Christ’s death, or the merit of his death, or the obedience of Christ, as being obedient to his Father unto the death, the death also of the cross, to be short, that justice of Christ which he obtained when in his passion he satisfied his Father’s wrath- this is our righteousness. For we may say, that either the death of Christ, or his satisfaction, or his merit, or his obedience, or his righteousness, is imputed unto us for righteousness. For all these are taken for one and the same thing.

But here it may be replied, If the works of Christ cannot properly procure for us any satisfaction nor merit, nor any part of satisfaction or merit, then it may be demanded, What hath been, and what is the use of Christ’s works, or of his active obedience, or of
the obedience of his life? I answer, that the holiness of the person of Christ, and of his natures, divine and human, and of his works, is the very ground or foundation of the satisfaction and merit which we have in the passion of Christ. That is, the excellency and worthiness of that person and of his works did cause that his passion was both satisfactory and meritorious: for if this person which suffered had not been so holy and excellent, as also his life so pure and godly, it is most certain that his passion could neither have satisfied God’s wrath nor merited mercy for us. For which cause the Apostle, (Heb. vii. 26,) speaking of this ground of his meritorious passion of Christ, saith that such an high priest it became us to have, which is holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.”

From A Treatise of God’s Effectual Calling, pp. 53-55 in The Select Works
of Robert Rollock, Vol. 1 (Woodrow Society 1849)

Evidently, Rollock was a Reformed dissenter from IAO of the period.  That there were dissenters to IAO is clear and this is reflected in the various Reformed confessions.  From some, such as the Augsburg Confession (1530) it is clearly absent locating justification solely in the satisfaction of the cross.

Also they [the Scriptures] teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. ( Article IV of Justification)

In others such as the Second London Baptist Confession (1689) it is clearly present.

Those whom God effectually calls He also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting them as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. They are not justified because God reckons as their righteousness either their faith, their believing, or any other act of evangelical obedience. They are justified wholly and solely because God imputes to them Christ’s righteousness. He imputes to them Christ’s active obedience to the whole law and His passive obedience in death. They receive Christ’s righteousness by faith, and rest on Him. They do not possess or produce this faith themselves, it is the gift of God. (Article XI)

Though it is entirely absent from the previous LBC of 1644

That those which have union with Christ, are justified from all their sins, past, present, and to come, by the blood of Christ; which justification we conceive to be a gracious and free acquittance of a guilty, sinful creature, from all sin by God, through the satisfaction that Christ hath made by his death; and this applied in the manifestation of it through faith. (Article XXVIII)

In other confessions the obedience of Christ is mentioned but the active and passive distinction is missing and the wording makes it difficult to assess whether IAO is intended or simply Christ’s obedience in death.  The Belgic Confession of 1561 reads rather like the latter.

We believe that our salvation consists in the remission of our sins for Jesus Christ’s sake, sad that therein our righteousness before God is implied: as David and Paul teach us, declaring this to be the happiness of man, that God imputes righteousness to him without works. And the same apostle says, that we are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ. And therefore we always hold fast this foundation, ascribing all the glory to God, humbling ourselves before him, and acknowledging ourselves to be such as we really are, without presuming to trust in any thing in ourselves, or in any merit of ours, relying and resting upon the obedience of Christ crucified alone, which becomes ours, when we believe in him. (Article XXII  bold mine)

Later revisions of this confession align themselves more firmly with IAO.  Others, like the Westminster Confession of Faith may be interpreted either way.

The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him. (Section VII article V)

Apparently the Westminster divines had intended to write ‘whole obedience‘ but under pressure from those who dissented from IAO declined.  G A Van Court, himself an advocate of IAO, writes,

It is a little known fact that “the imputation of Christ’s active obedience was a matter of
prolonged debate at the [Westminster] Assembly.”A minority, most notably Thomas
Gataker (1574–1654), William Twisse (1578–1646) and Richard Vines (1600–1656),
believed that “Christ’s sufferings and death, or passive obedience, alone are imputed to
the believer.”

Thus the WCF chose language that accommodated their consciences. Dr. J.V. Fesko, a Presbyterian andstrong advocate of IAO  who considers the omission (of ‘whole’)  as “a deficiency in the Confession,” regretfully comments,

“This clearly allows for the position of Gataker, Twisse, and Vines on this subject.’ (Quoted with reference in  The Obedience of Christ: A Response to Steve Lehrer and Geoff Volker by Gregory A. Van Court)

The same absence of IAO is found in the Thirty-nine Articles and Homilies of the Church of England (1563 and 1547 respectively).  In all probability such accommodation explains the cautious wording of other confessions too.  Remember that most confessions are consensus documents and are worded in such ways as to maintain this consensus.

The truth seems to be that while many Reformed folks in the C16/17 (to say nothing of Evangelicals outside the confessionally  Reformed side of  Protestantism)  affirmed IAO, a significant number did not and the early divines were not inclined to make the differences of the substance of the faith   IAO was not considered a matter of orthodoxy thus confessions allowed for differing views on the subject.

Scottish theologian, Free Church founder, and historian William Cunningham summed up the wisdom of the debate like this:

It [the distinction between active and passive obedience] is to be traced rather to the more minute and subtle speculations, to which the doctrine of justification was afterwards subjected; and though the distinction is quite in accordance with the analogy of faith, and may be of use in aiding the formation of distinct and definitive conceptions, it is not of any great practical importance and need not be much pressed or insisted on, if men heartily and intelligently ascribe their forgiveness and acceptance wholly to what Christ has done and suffered in their room and stead. There is no ground in anything Calvin has written for asserting, that he would have denied or rejected this distinction, if it had been presented to him. But it was perhaps more in accordance with the cautious and reverential spirit in which he usually conducted his investigations into divine things, to abstain from any minute and definite statements (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1967], 404).

For the Reformers and their immediate followers, ‘of the substance of the faith’ was justification by faith alone.  Also ‘of the substance’ was imputed righteousness.  The precise detail of how this righteousness was achieved was in the final analysis a matter of conscience.  Nowhere was this latter point more evidently so than in the debate over IAO.

Again the case for insisting on IAO as a matter of historical evangelical orthodoxy is seen to be weak,  indeed found to be wanting.

(to be continued)


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (5)

Advocates of IAO often insist that it is integral to evangelical orthodoxy.  The implication being, to reject it is to forfeit the right to the label evangelical, or at least, orthodox evangelical.  Of course the burden of proof lies with those who so claim to prove their case and it appears an exceptionally hard case to prove.  Indeed,  from what I have read to date, it seems an impossible task.


Thus far, Church history from C1-C16 has yielded one letter that may support IAO.  A early letter from Mathetes to Diognetus, an unbeliever around C2/3) is forwarded as proof.  Mathetes (meaning, ‘a disciple’) writes,

But when our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that is wages–punishment and death–were to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power (oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!).

He did not hate us,
or reject us,
or bear a grudge against us;
instead he was patient and forbearing;
in his mercy he took upon himself our sins;

he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us,
the holy one for the lawless,
the guiltless for the guilty,
the just for the unjust,
the incorruptible for the corruptible,
the immortal for the mortal.

For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins?  In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone?

O the sweet exchange,
O the incomprehensible work of God,
O the unexpected blessings,
that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person,
while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!

While at first glance this text may appear to support IAO careful examination shows this is probably asking too much of it.  It supports imputation, that is clear, but that it supports IAO is much less clear.  The letter focuses on the death of Christ as the locus of justification.  In fact, the last two lines are simply a paraphrase of Roms 5:17, 18.  This, however, is the sum of evidence from the first fifteen centuries.  It is scarcely overwhelming.  It would be difficult to make a strong case for IAO as essential to gospel orthodoxy from the first fifteen centuries of western church.


To be fair, those who argue for IAO normally date and define ‘evangelical orthodoxy’ from the Reformation.  The  Reformation was due in large part to differences between the Reformers (Protestants) and the Roman Catholic Church over the nature of justification.  The Catholic Church insisted that in justification righteousness is imparted (our justification is the righteous living God’s grace produces within)  while the Reformers insisted that in justification righteousness is imputed (justification is the verdict God as the righteous judge passes on all who trust in Christ because of the virtue of Christ’s atoning death).  In the former people are ‘made’ righteous and in the latter they are ‘declared’ righteous.  Now all who follow in the tradition of the Reformers view righteousness as imputed.  Both  Evangelical and Reformed orthodoxy (the latter now a subset of the former) insist on imputation.  But do they insist on the particular brand of imputation that is IAO?

What of the C16?  The evidence from the Magisterial Reformers (early reformers supported by the ruling authorities) is mixed.  Martin Luther certainly believed in imputation but what he thought of IAO seems open to some debate.  Brian Vickers, an advocate of IAO, in his book ‘Jesus’ blood and Righteousness’ written to make the case for IAO writes,

There is considerable debate over Luther’s teaching on imputation, or whether he held anything like the later Reformed and Lutheran understanding of the doctrine… it is difficult to see in Luther a developed idea of both the negative and positive elements of imputation, as spelled out so precisely in later Lutheran and Reformed theology.  (Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness:  Crossway 2006 Pg 24)

He believes however that some of the necessary elements that belong to later formulations can be found in Luther’s writings.  Vickers’ concession that Luther, a major Reformer,  is not a clear supporter of IAO is telling.  Indeed he further concedes,

There is no emphasis given to Christ’s fulfilment of the Law which in turn is imputed to the believer. (Pg 25)

and again

[When speaking of imputation] he [Luther] is more apt to emphasize forgiveness… than the imputation of positive righteousness.

Mark Seifrid, who is less convinced about IAO as traditionally expressed, yet conservative and reformed, writes of Luther,

Luther thinks [ of justification] in terms of union with the crucified and risen Lord… The later Protestant formulaic description of justification as the ‘imputation of Christ’s righteousness’ was a development of the Melanchtheonian view…  In many other contexts he [Luther] speaks of the non-imputation of sin.  But he does not speak of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness – or does so only rarely – because he regards Christ himself as present in Faith’. (Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates : Apollos 2004  Pg 144)

The transfer of the law-keeping life of Christ as a necessary part of justification was not, it appears central to Luther’s gospel.

What of Calvin?  A much better case can be made for IAO as part of Calvin’s understanding of justification.  This is true particularly of the Institutes which  seem to suggest not only that Calvin believed that Christ’s righteous life and death are vital for justification but that the righteous life ‘merits’ our righteousness and is transferred to us.  Yet Vickers fairly points out that for Calvin justification is always tied closely to Christ’s death and forgiveness of sins.  He points out that in his commentaries Calvin speaks of justification explicitly in terms of forgiveness of sins.  For example Calvin writes of Roms 4:6

‘that God justifies men by not imputing sin: and by these words we are taught that righteousness, according to Paul, is nothing else than the remission of sins… Safe then does this most glorious declaration remain to us — “That he is justified by faith, who is cleared before God by a gratuitous remission of his sins.”

Calvin in his Geneva Catechism for Children of Geneva in 1545, intended to be used by adults to teach their children and based largely on the Apostles’ Creed, wrote,

Master:   Why do you make the transition from birth to death, omitting the story of his life?

Scholar: Because nothing is dealt with here, except what so pertains to our redemption, as in some degree  to contain the substance of it.

Note, Calvin understands the silence of the Apostles’ Creed on the life of Christ as signalling that the life of Christ is not in any way redemptive.

In the Institutes, which are considered Calvin’s mature systemized reflections, we read in Book 3 Ch 11 on the topic of justification  :

Say, then, if God does not justify us by acquitting and pardoning, what does Paul mean when he says “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them”? “He made him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:19, 21). Here I learn, first, that those who are reconciled to God are regarded as righteous: then the method is stated, God justifies by pardoning; and hence, in another place, justification is opposed to accusation (Rom. 8:33); Book 3  Ch 11 sec 11

It is evident therefore, that the only way in which those whom God embraces are made righteous, is by having their pollutions wiped away by the remission of sins, so that this justification may be termed in one word the remission of sins. Institutes   Bk 3  Ch 11 Sec 21

Both of these become perfectly clear from the words of Paul: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” He then subjoins the sum of his embassy: “He has made him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:19-21). He here uses righteousness and reconciliation indiscriminately, to make us understand that the one includes the other. The mode of obtaining this righteousness he explains to be, that our sins are not imputed to us. Wherefore, you cannot henceforth doubt how God justifies us when you hear that he reconciles us to himself by not imputing our faults. In the same manner, in the Epistle to the Romans, he proves, by the testimony of David, that righteousness is imputed without works, because he declares the man to be blessed “whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” and “unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,” (Rom. 4:6; Ps. 32:1, 2). There he undoubtedly uses blessedness for righteousness; and as he declares that it consists in forgiveness of sins, there is no reason why we should define it otherwise. Accordingly, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, sings that the knowledge of salvation consists in the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77). The same course 2058was followed by Paul when, in addressing the people of Antioch, he gave them a summary of salvation. Luke states that he concluded in this way: “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13:38, 39). Thus the Apostle connects forgiveness of sins with justification in such a way as to show that they are altogether the same; and hence he properly argues that justification, which we owe to the indulgence of God, is gratuitous.  Sec 22

Now I am not saying that Calvin did not teach IAO, though there are Reformed historians who so claim (C19 R. W. Landis, “What Were the Views Entertained by the Early Reformers, on the Doctrine of Justification, Faith, and the Active Obedience of Christ?”)  What I am saying is he regularly and unequivocally identified justification as forgiveness of sins.  Calvin seems to have understood justification in terms of union with Christ and imputation of righteousness was, for him, integrally involved with this union.  It seems that current wisdom is reluctant to consider Calvin a strong advocate of a developed IAO, though it is evidently present.  The championing happened in later reformers.

Finally, Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, according to A McGrath in Justitia Dei, tended to conflate justification and regeneration, indeed McGrath sees Zwingli as making justification subordinate to regeneration.  Justification did not appear to figure largely in his thinking.  He does not appear to have a clear statement about imputed righteousness, far less IAO.


In summary, Luther taught imputed righteousness but cannot really be clearly aligned with current IAO orthodoxy.  Calvin is much more closely aligned but IAO does not have in him the emphasis it has in later formulations and present orthodoxy.  He often identifies forgiveness of sins through Christ’s righteous death as the sum of justification in a way that few IAO advocates would today.  Zwingli tended to moralism in justification.

Thus three of the seminal reformers have somewhat different emphases on what imputation means.  We should not be surprised at this.  The reality is that the early Reformers did not have agreed confessions.  They differed in many details.  Indeed their theological understanding grew and adapted through life.  James Payton in his recent book ‘Getting the Reformation Wrong’ writes,

“The various Reformers reflected on how the great transaction promised in the gospel ‘worked,’ and they came to somewhat different insights. These sometimes reinforced each other, but at times they were in conflict. Luther emphasized the ‘sweet exchange’ between the sinner and ‘Christ and that sinners are united to Christ by that faith impelled in them by the Holy Spirit. Melanchthon’s regular stress on divine mercy fits closely with this, although bringing a different accent. Zwingli tied justification to the divine decree of election, with faith the temporal manifestation of what God intended from eternity past from his chosen. Bucer stressed that justification includes the reception of the Holy Spirit, who leads believers to live for God: ‘Hence he [St. Paul] never uses the word “justify” in this way without appearing to speak no less of this imparting of true righteousness than of the found and head of our entire salvation, the forgiveness of sins.’ Calvin stepped back from Bucer’s declaration when he asserted that justification by faith precludes ‘the sense … that we receive within any righteousness,’ but Calvin brought another emphasis when he asserted, ‘Christ, therefore, makes us thus participants in himself in order that we, who are in ourselves sinners, may be, through Christ’s righteousness, considered just before the throne of God.’ But these differences were variant modulations within the Reforms’ concerto. The Protestant Reformers agreed in emphasizing justification sola fide.” (See Euangelion blog)

The case for IAO as orthodoxy in the first fifteen centuries is virtually non-existent.  The case for a hard and fast IAO as a uniform part of orthodoxy among the initial reformers it would appear is far from compelling.

(To be continued)

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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